International CES 2009
& THE Show Report
In what was labeled the Rives
Audio room I heard Talon
Firehawks powered by the new Navison
150 watt OTL monoblocks ($30,000/pr) with a Navison Reference 228 CD player
($9500) and SE MkII preamplifier ($6500) ahead of it. The monoblocks were
visually attractive atop custom sized vibration absorbing stands from SRA.
Surprisingly; Navison comes from
I had been hoping for another chance to hear loudspeakers
from Zu Audio since my first
exposure to them in
Audio Physics was playing their new Scorpio loudspeaker (4500€) which is at the top of their "High End" series, just below their "Reference" series. The CAD cabinet is a bit unusual in that its curvature widens out at the back, allowing you to see the two woofers on each side when the loudspeaker is canted toward the listening position. As you expect from this established German manufacturer, the design, fit and finish is excellent. And with a variety of models within each line, including center channel loudspeakers, the possibility of surround sound or home theater with matching drivers is very flexible. A variety of wood finishes as well as silver, white and black are available. Good sound here.
DeVore Fidelity was playing their new 3XL monitor ($3700) with solid bamboo cabinet sitting atop a matching stand that sounded very, very good powered by Nagra VPA tube amps and a Spiral Groove SG-2 turntable feeding a Nagra VPS tube phono stage and PL-P battery powered tube preamplifier. The sound here was exceptionally good with outstanding detail, transparency and dynamics…all without the slightest hint of irritation. DeVore plays up the Green Theme with a silk dome tweeter and new paper coned woofer along with 90dB/W/m sensitivity and flat 8 Ohm impedance that is very tube friendly. My apologies for missing a photo op — it was probably very late in the day by this point. There seemed to be a full complement of DeVore loudspeakers in the room, but the 3XL was certainly the good news. A tip of my Sierra Club hat goes out to them. They got the music just right in this room.
showed a music server that seemed intuitive and user friendly enough that even
I might be tempted to move in that direction, aside from the issue
of downloading all the obscure music and album covers in my 5000 LP
Next to it was their little desktop amplifier for use with
computers that was smaller than the dictionary I keep close at hand. Cute!
Using Ayon tube
electronics, I heard very detailed music from the Escalante
Designs Pinyon monitor that I reviewed back in 2005. They have
since been updated with lower, tighter bass and even higher efficiency.
Nearby, in another room, people were listening very intently to the larger
I was impressed with the sound and beauty of the Maxxhorn
(now knows as Affirm Audio) Lumination
($34,000), a folded horn design with a Tractrix
single driver mounted on a tiger maple baffle with gloss black
sides that can be special ordered in various combinations of satin and gloss
finish, depending on your desired bling quotient. It was driven by a remote
controlled Ayon Crossfire
integrated amplifier that puts out 30 wpc with the Ayon 62B power tube. This
is a Class A SET design with zero feedback with outstanding build quality,
A visit to the Gershman
Acoustics room was a delightful update of the last
Prima Luna introduced a new Prologue Eight Mk2 CD player with a tube-based clock and a new Prologue Three Mk2 preamp that were feeding Dialogue 7 monoblocks (?) putting out 70 watts each in ultralinear mode or 40 watts in triode. At least that is what the literature I picked up suggested. Something one of the hosts said suggested that the preamp and CD player might be new models in the Dialogue series. In any case they were driving Sonus Faber Amati loudspeakers quite effectively. The new pieces are said to be a significant step up from the earlier models. The new gear has 12AU7 tubes instead of the 12AX7s resulting in much less distortion above 1V, by a factor of 20 Kevin Deal tells me. He also pointed out that the 12AU7s are much more widely available in a variety of NOS tubes at a much lower cost than 12AX7s making it a lot more fun for guys who like to roll tubes.
line is built to an even higher level of quality than the Prima Luna and runs
in pentode mode, which is a lot closer to triode than ultralinear. Pictured
here is the impressive underside point to point wiring of a Mystere integrated
amplifier with its premium volume control seen in the bottom left side of the
photo. I heard the Mystere gear playing the Vienna
Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand loudspeaker, available in three wood
veneers as well as piano white and piano black. The more powerful ia21 model
integrated allows you to change from EL34 to KT88 tubes with the flip of a
switch after swapping the four power tubes. The unfamiliar classical music
didn't allow me to get a grip on the sound here — they always seem to play
classical music on the Vienna Acoustics speakers — but the Vienna Acoustics
line has a very high rating in my book. Likewise, the Prima Luna line and
Mystere line, both from the
EgglestonWorks introduced their new Andra III loudspeaker with a complement of Ayre electronics on Grand Prix racks. The cabinet takes on different hues in the flash photo due to the combination of multiple angles, high gloss paint finish and aluminum side panels. This is a serious loudspeaker at 220 lbs each and $23,900/pr. Time was running short and I only allowed myself a brief listen.
I had another brief visit at the Musical Interpretations room but it was a jaw-dropping experience that shook my fundamental sense of value. The CD player was not noted, but the Musicality pre-amp ($2500) and Musicality monoblocks ($2500 each) using a pair of 2A3 tubes in push-pull configuration drove the MI 15 coaxial loudspeakers ($3500/pr) with stunning transparency and huge dynamics. The monoblocks, using zero feedback, are spec'd at 10 watts each, but I was told they put out 7. Nonetheless, that is all that was needed to drive the 102dB/W/m efficient loudspeakers. The 12- and 18-inch coaxial versions of this speaker are also listed for not much less or much more than the 15-inch version shown. I noted that the speakers and amps were set on Stillpoints cones with risers, point up. No fancy amp stands here — just the cones. This gear definitely deserves closer investigation, but strangely, their website turns up the home page of a photographer.
King Sound of China hosted three rooms with various size versions of their electrostatic loudspeakers. The big rig had a pair of electrostatics supplemented with separate towers (seen in the corner) housing four dynamic drivers each for $12,000, complete. In another room I heard the smaller Prince II full range electrostats (48 Hz to 36 kHz) costing $5600 and driven by a single Phi 200 stereo amplifier. Both rooms sounded very good, and probably would have sounded better if I had settled into the sweet spot for a more serious listen. In the third room, I spotted a prototype of a new VAC integrated that combines the circuitry of the preamp and power amp just mentioned. I figure that one will cost in the neighborhood of $20,000.
Western Electric presented their power amp and preamp with Isophon Arabba speakers ($37,000) from Germany that featured ceramic drivers, or $45,000 with diamond tweeters. Somewhere I wrote down the prices of the WE gear, but all I can find are the photos of the large and small monoblocks seen here. The prices were commensurate with the cost of the loudspeakers, as I recall. The large meter on the front of the monoblocks topped out at 600 watts, but listening at reasonable level to a ballad by the Eagles, it didn't get close to 0.1 watt. What does that tell you? Also, the label on the Isophon speaker suggests the Germans are developing breakthrough technology in genetic engineering.